Published on www.nisade.com:
I recently read an article about Japan vs North America when it comes to skiing destinations, and while I don’t question the experience or experiences of the writer, I felt that Niseko was not given the due it deserves as a world-class skiing destination.
I lived in the Canadian Rockies for four years and rode extensively at North American ski slopes, including Lake Louise, Park City, Revelstoke, and Snow Basin to name just a few. Now that I am entering my third season in Japan I feel qualified enough to offer an opinion on North America vs Niseko when it comes to skiing holiday destinations.
I love North America, and her ski slopes offered me incredible pow days, spectacular overall seasons and unforgettable moments, but I would choose Japan for a holiday every time, and these are the reasons why.
Yes, the measured snowfall in Niseko is comparable to her North American counterparts, particularly Mt Baker, Revelstoke and Snow Basin. However, the beauty of Niseko’s 12m – 16m annual snowfall is consistency. Instead of sporadic dumps that result in glory powder days for those lucky enough to be riding, Niseko offers fresh pow practically every day during peak season. For example: in January 2014 right through to the first weeks of February, it snowed every single day. Keeping doors and driveways clear was impossible, and visitors and locals alike were joyfully pow-drunk on the snow that just wouldn’t stop falling.
It could be argued that this is a reason to choose the steeper slopes of North America of Niseko, but for holidaymakers and families, Niseko’s mellower terrain actually offers a better experience. With a higher instance of intermediate runs, all of which are obligingly dusted with pow on a regular basis, there are more options for riding terrain that is suitable for the whole group. If someone needs an extra hit of extreme, cat skiing, heli skiing, and guided tours are readily available, and can take the intrepid punter to winter wonderlands that will satisfy their wildest dreams.
It is unnecessary to sing the praises of Niseko’s out-of-bounds to anyone who has ridden there, but recent misrepresentation has compelled me to add this as a point. Although riding off-piste is frowned upon as in all ski resorts, the ever-accommodating Japanese have identified the most desirable out-of-bounds areas and placed Gates at the entryways. Strawberry Fields forever! You are still skiing at your own risk, but the enticing pillows, glades, and gullies of Mt Annupuri’s backcountry are yours to enjoy. If the avalanche risk becomes too high, the gates are closed for your safety.
4. It’s in Japan
If you have never visited Japan you are in for a treat. The natives are friendly, efficient, and seem to enjoy helping people just for the sake of it. They are thrilled if you can speak even any of their language, and love showing off their English skills. It is overwhelmingly safe, beautifully clean, and endearingly unusual.
I love to chow down on chicken wings and poutine with the best of them, but when it comes to variety and novelty, Niseko restaurants beat those at North American ski villages hands down. Sashimi is just the start of it; there is also an inexplicable profusion of wonderful French restaurants to experience, the inevitable ramen joints at every corner, and incredible bakeries at which to indulge. However if you do find yourself jonesing for a burger and a beer, there are plenty of pub options that will hit the spot.
Whistler Village is an exquisite hamlet straight from the pages of a storybook, but the lopsided charm of Niseko sets the mood for a more artless ambience. Rows of luxury condos are peppered with hole-in-the-wall pubs and smoky yakitori dens; random street vendors share fronts with lavish hotels, and wonderful convenience stores sell everything from Vegemite to glutinous rice balls. This mismatched magic can only last for so long, as Niseko’s star is continuously rising, along with the demand for luxury condos.
7. Vending machines
The epitome of all things weird and wonderful in Japan, the local vending machines are stocked with everything from toothpaste to beer. These little beauties are a welcome sight on the ski hill, where they offer both a hot and cold selection of beverages without the ordeal of weaving your way through the cafeteria. There’s nothing like wrapping your frozen fingers around a warm flask of corn soup or a hot lemonade after a session of face shots!
Of course everyone has their preference and I look forward to many happy vacations at the North American slopes, but for a one-off holiday I am team Niseko all the way.